T’Pau were a huge deal in the world of 80s pop, with frontwoman Carol Decker and her spectacular vocals always standing out. The distinctive Decker worked with her then partner Ron Rogers, and produced massive singles like ‘China In Your Hand’, and ‘Heart and Soul’.
Still going strong today, Decker is on something of a nostalgia tour, but still writes music, too, despite the focus on live settings. She’s charismatic and easy-going, clearly at ease with her role in music today. In fact, when it comes to the process, she’s nothing short of joyous about it all.
“Maybe I might have been headlining back in the day, being frank,” Decker tells us, laughing about her appearance at Forever Young Festival this weekend. “But overall things are kind of similar, we’re all a little older and wiser. All my peers are still there with me, or most of them, but the chess pieces have moved on the board a little.”
“Some people get hits and some people get a longer career. Maybe it’s about having a faithful following instead of momentary adulation, I don’t know. Creative arts is a crapshoot,” she continues. “If you could make a formula for always having a top five hit, I’m sure we’d all do it, but it’s not possible. It’s a little bit of fairy dust, a little bit of timing, and a little bit of charisma, and it falls into place. You just have to enjoy it when it does.”
Competition: Champions League First Qualifying Round
Date: 11 July 2023
Result: Shamrock Rovers 0 – 1 Breiðablik
Tickets: €20 for adults, €7 for kids.
Game/ Experience Rating: ☆☆☆
The Game: I’ve made a habit of seeing some Irish clubs in Europe every season, as my groundhopping entries for the last few years show, and the Champions League appearance, being a knock out game for a single team, can often be very short lived, so I wanted to get to this one.
Shamrock Rovers have had some great runs in Europe in recent years but despite being top of the League of Ireland, they feel a bit off colour this year, and this game highlighted it. On balance it was fairly evenly matched, but Breiðablik’s tight close passing and defensive strength frustrated Rovers, who snatched as the best chances they created (including at least two clear one-on-ones) and always looked vulnerable at the back.
As it happened, the goal they conceded was a brilliantly worked free kick that was slightly moved when taken before being belted hard over the wall. Breiðablik are a much better side than I had expected, truth be told, with their neat midfield in particular impressing, but Rovers should have done much better, and now have the major challenge of going away to Iceland needing to win. Disappointing.
The ground: Tallaght is by some distance the best League of Ireland stadium in Dublin if what you’re looking for is something modern and comfortable (I prefer the old-world ones personally), and the final side is almost finished. We headed for our usual spot up the top of the west stand, where you’ve got a great view of the hills as well as what’s going on in front of you. Easy access and relaxed (especially on nights like tonight, where there were only about 50 away fans), it’s always a decent experience.
Extras: I saw programmes but didn’t buy one. The kids went mad on the sweet stalls as usual. Apparently the burgers are decent but I’ve never been bothered queuing for them to be honest.
Assorted asides: No Champions League music tonight. Apparently it can’t be played until the group stages. I mainly watch football in a country where no side has ever reached the group stages of the CHampions League. In terms of building atmosphere and making the occasion special, this seems a spectacularly shortsighted rule.
My totals for the year so far:
Games: 16. Home wins: 9 Draws: 4 Away wins: 3
Goals: 45. Home goals: 30. Away goals: 15. Goals per game: 2.81
Neo-soul – a kind of deeply expressive and varied version of traditional soul music – is a growing genre in Ireland and slowly finding both expression and quality, with acts like the poignant and lively Danny G and the Majors 7ths.
Channelling a real variety of music from around the globe, the band already have two full-length records behind them, and have been dubbed “one of the founding fathers of Irish neo-soul”, delivering swing, funk, and an effortless smoothness.
“I’m inspired by anything that grooves, really. Motown, Rn’B from the 2000s, music from Africa, South America,” Danny G tells us. “Lately I’ve been really into Salsa, latin stuff, Venezuelan music from the 70s. But when it comes to neo-soul, D’Angelo is probably my greatest living influence. I’ve been to see him a few times and his shows are funk gospel workouts. It’s like a religious experience.”
“When I write, I try to sing the melodies to myself first,” he explains, “and if they’re interesting I’ll make some voice notes. I put the chords down afterwards on an acoustic guitar. I find if I do it the other way around, I get bogged down in trying to be too complicated musically. The vocal melody should be the most important thing so that’s the best place to start.”
“Recently, I’ve been trying to write songs that say something important. Not that love songs aren’t important too. But I feel like we’ve reached a point in our civilisation where we need to prioritise the survival of our planet, our species, and music can be an important tool in spreading that message.”
Recently, the band went down a beautiful rabbit hole of classic Irish tracks and funked them up, producing a record of the results.
“That was something close to my heart,” Danny says. “I’d been thinking about making Ceol for the Soul for years. There are so many beautiful Irish songs from all sorts of styles, be it folk, rock, trad. The tracklist sort of chose itself.”
Twenty years after taking X Factor by storm, lecturing Simon Cowell on bullying, and heading off our TV screens as a bona fide superstar, Will Young has found an inner peace that sits well on him.
Embracing nostalgia and ploughing forward all at the same time, he’s seen his fanbase morph, found a calmness around fame, and seen his own taste and his music slowly converge.
“That moment where I had a go at Simon Cowell still stands out as a proud moment, as I stood up not just for myself, but for other people, which was my impetus going into it. I wanted to tell him that he was a bully because I was so appalled watching the rounds on TV, the way people were being treated. I just thought ‘you don’t scare me’. It’s easy to bully from a position of power. I’m still really proud of that.”
“It probably took me six or seven years to process the change, in total,” Young says of his personal circumstances following X Factor. “I’d done two albums, a film, a play, and various tours, and once I started therapy and went on a couple of courses I sort of put work in its place.”
“I didn’t ever really get involved with the fame thing, I was more interested in getting the music right. The days of being followed by paparazzi, I can’t even remember what that was like. It probably was stressful because it was quite scary. I used to ring up the police and say I’m being stalked, because I was. The police would come round and tell the person to go away.”
“My life’s so different now so it feels so alien. It’s quite fun to remember how ridiculous it was. I never really engaged with the magazines and stuff, I wasn’t interested in seeing what I looked like. I remember thinking nobody’s going to tell me something about me that I don’t already know, so why do I need to read it?”
Now that things have moved on, Young is back on the road, and enjoying a glance backwards.
“A huge amount of nostalgia was involved, and I really enjoyed it,” Young says of his recent Greatest Hits album. “It’s really fun to look back on things, I deliberately made it nostalgic as I think people like that.”
“I put the singles on the greatest hits record, really, after 20 years there are more than enough to put on there. A bonus version, which I’m really pleased with, involved digging around in my attic, finding old photos and Polaroids and things that I felt made it worthwhile. The bonus CD has old demos and acoustic versions that I did on a random radio station in Germany or something. Things like that make it really special, and that was really fun to do.”
As she releases her second album ‘Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty’, Megan O’Neill is drawing on both the experience of a rural Leinster upbringing, and a different kind of life – periods living and working in Nashville, and London. She’s marked, widely, as a rising star of a gorgeous Irish folk scene.
Her new album, though, is the result of a revision of her sound.
“I wanted to branch into different sounds for a while,” she says, “and pre-covid I’d been probably a little bit scared to do so. I think during covid we all had this time to sit down and think about our lives, and I thought a lot about sonics, and where I want to go. One of the great things about songwriting is once you’ve got the bones of a song you can do a lot with the production, and that changes where it goes and how it’s perceived.”
“For me the bones of the song are still the same, the lyrics and the story are always the most important part. I need to be able to strip the song back and play it on acoustic guitar and piano, and then it goes from there.”
Part of that sound, in this case, comes from coming home.
“I lived in London and Nashville and I kind of convinced myself I was a city girl,” she says, “but the reality is I am definitely not. I like open space, and being able to go for walks and take time in nature, and that’s where my best ideas come,” she explains of her relocation to the heart of rural Ireland to focus on her music.
“Nashville crept into my music for a while, and I suppose it still does in my approach to songwriting, my structure and my lyrics. I grew up obsessed with Americana and folk, country music, and so on. That’s why I wanted to be there in the first place. My style has grown a lot since then.”
“It gave me perspective on where I’m from. I grew up in a really tiny village and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore, and see what the world had to offer, but the more time I spent away, the more I missed being there. Even when I’m away, the minute the plane lands back at Dublin airport I breathe a little easier.”
Galway band Adore, a feisty garage-punk act growing from the ashes of former act GIF, are diving in the deep end this summer with a couple fo single releases that follow from their signing with local label Blowtorch.
Debut single ‘Postcards’, an experimental take inspired by the likes of Breeders and Sleeper, is followed by this month’s new release ‘Stay Free’.
I spoke to Lachlann about the band’s early days…
I understand while releases are fairly new, you’ve been gigging for some time. Can you tell me a bit about how you’ve progressed?
Well we started in the early part of last year and since then we’ve just been gigging as much as we can around the country in different places to new audiences. From that I think you get a good idea of what your sound is, it forces you to play to your strengths and puts you outside your comfort zone. Also you always want something new so it motivates you to write more.
Sometimes if we’re trying to figure out a song we’ll play the half finished version and hope we can come up with something on the night. So in terms of what we’ve learned in the last year I’d say we’ve gained a lot of resilience and we’re a lot more ourselves.
You recently signed to Blowtorch. How has that been?
Richard has been amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a better guy to work with for these two releases. He’s so on the ball, and kind and patient with us. Without him we’d have either nothing recorded or something bad recorded, and I think he maybe knew that and intercepted the possibility. We’re genuinely forever grateful, he’s the man of the match for us.
Can you tell me a bit about what to expect from your album?
Well, the album is but a dream at the minute, but we do have two singles coming out this summer that are being sold on vinyl at the end of the month. From that I’d say you can expect two songs, both in the realm of punk and pop with some garage in there, that the three of us love to pieces. They’re fun to play and they were even more fun to record and see them develop.
Do you find your live experience plays into producing a better record?
I’d say we do, it was the main reason we wanted to record them live. Also recording live is far more fun. Everyone has a better time, even though sometimes it feels like you’ll never get it right and you’ll just be there forever, but trust me it was fun.
If there’s a single song that best represents, you what would it be?
We’ve got a song called Supermum, it’s about not being taught that you can say no. Lara’s lyrics are genius, Naoise’s drums are crazy, I’m having a very hard time keeping up on bass, and it’s over in three minutes. Bish bash bosh back of the net
I’ve been involved in Europavox for about five year now. It’s a really cool music project that, amongst other things, is specifically designed to take bands that are breaking through in one part of Europe, and promote them in other locations. There are some truly brilliant products of it: Sigrid, Molchat Doma, Just Mustard and Dermot Kennedy have all been involved in the past.
Despite five years of involvement, much of it as the English langauge editor, this weekend was only my second trip to the main event, which takes place annually in Clermont-Ferrand, in the shadow of the volcanoes of the French massif. In fact, because of various staff changes, I was meeting a lot of the team for the first time, despite working with them incredibly regularly. This year involved 38 different acts from 18 different countries around Europe, and a long weekend watching them, including the great (invite only) aside of the recording of the ARTE Sessions, a series of three-track semi-studio recordings for TV that happened alongside the festival (I saw seven acts over the weekend in this environment).
Like in 2018, I’ve decided to put together a short list of what I enjoyed the most, partly because I’ve loved looking back at the old one, but also in the hope it gives them a tiny bit of promo outside of what I’m doing elsewhere. So without further rambling, here are my five favourite acts of the weekend (it might be worth noting that I couldn’t attend on Sunday, and I’ve also deliberately left out the Irish acts as they’d already be well known to most people who will read this, so this is really a favourite acts from Thursday to Saturday that aren’t Irish, which is another way pf saying I decided not to give you a paragraph on Thumper, who I’ve written about extensively before. The broader point, of course, is check out all the below, they’re all great…)
How much do I like Arny Margret? I’ve a literal list of acts I want to see when they eventually land somewhere in my vaccinity, and alongside a list of 8 or 10 acts that are mostly close to household names, you would, until this show, have found Arny. She’s a young-with-an-old-soul Icelandic singer-songwriter from a tiny town in the Westfjords, performing songs penned over the course of snowed-in winters that pour her heart into poetic turns of phrase.
With a vibe similar to Joni Mitchell at her most poppy and accesible, her sound is incredibly minimalist, made up of a sparsely used acoustic guitar and a note-perfect, soulful vocal. I particularly like the gut-wrenching beauty of album closer ‘Abandoned’, which she rarely plays live but did in Clermont (I won’t lie, I told her I love the track in interview beforehand so I suspect I may have nudged her, but who knows). Singles like ‘They Only Talk About The Weather’ and ‘The World Is Between Us’ both have incredible beauty, found largely in their poetic sentimentality and heartache. Arny Margret is not quite a pop act purely because of the gentle pace of her work, but what she produces is certain to bring her far: it’s simply spellbinding.
Despite the name suggesting a metal act, SKAAR are a soaring female-fronted emotional electro pop act who were absolutely superb live, reminscent of latter-day Florence and the Machine with slightly heftier electro elements. She already seems to be on the road to fame, and has a small date at Dublin’s Workman’s Club later this year that I’m definitely keen to check out. I found this euphoric, and it felt like the singer did, too, which is always a bonus. Accessible and charming.
Tickets: €35 for a family ticket (two adults, two kids)
Attendance: circa 2,500
Game/ Experience Rating: ☆☆☆
The Game: My second Louth derby of the season, and they are generally quite exciting if not overly high quality. Drogheda dominated much of this one, well on top in the first half, including taking the lead and hitting both posts early in the second period, too. Dundalk are dangerous, though, especially with Pat Hoban up front – he became the club’s record goalscorer with his first of two goals here.
Dundalk scored two second half goals in as many minutes to take control of the game – pretty much their only decent chances of the game, from what I can recall. That said, I may have that wrong – dealing with a toddler while you watch the match isn’t the easiest and I didn’t exactly take every second of this in. From what I saw, it was a good game overall, without ever being truly compelling.
The ground: I’ve been to United Park before, and unintentionally found myself in the away end that time (they were playing UCD, and there were next to no away fans). This time I was the opposite side of the pitch, and it’s a much better set up: easy access, lots of flares from the home fans and a couple of decent snack spots. There’s a slightly irritating policy around standing on the barrier (the stewards allowed it for 70 minutes and then decided not to anymore), but otherwise a pretty good place to watch football. Fairly run down, but that’s part of the charm, I think.
Extras: Decent coffee, lively fans (at least until they were behind, which is understandable in a derby), a surprisingly large full-time police presence, and a nice lad in a technicoloured suit. All good fun.
Assorted asides: I’ve worked out recently that this is actually the easiest professional club to visit from my place, so might well be back more often. Fingers crossed they stay up, a promotion/ relegation play off is not looking impossible this year.
My totals for the year so far:
Games: 15. Home wins: 9 Draws: 4 Away wins: 2
Goals: 44. Home goals: 30. Away goals: 14. Goals per game: 2.93